November 23, 2009


Last month marked my eighth year in the Netherlands, a number I never expected to reach. It also marked the seventh year since a small handful of writers and I put our heads together to come up with what you now see here, Versal et al.

Just back from a trip to the States and still feeling the whir of jetlag; the sensation that I'm straddling the Atlantic is slightly more keen than normal, and the months of scribbled notes I have made to myself on translocality -- upon confrontations with art, late-night drinks with friends in bars, after people ask me "so what kind of Work does Versal publish?" (caps intended) -- seem rather daunting. I'm trying to work something out, and I promised Robert, sort of, that I would work it out on the blog. But I'm a reviser, see, and hesitant -- wary -- of absolutes. If you read my editorial in Versal 7, then you can probably guess that my work to define translocality is rather, in many ways, to undefine it.

But. Last weekend, Crossing Border put on a "minisymposium" on the "correlation between (literary) magazines and literary publishers", pivoting around the (in)famous McSweeney's and its various projects, with a few Dutch publishers thrown into the mix. I ended up not being able to make it down to The Hague in time, but regardless I feel the need to say something about the fact that Versal was not asked to join the local contingent of speakers at this event. To take a card from McSweeney's deck, we're a cool group of Gen X-cusp-Yers, and Versal is no Dutch eyesore.

The symposium's focus on the relationship between literary journals and publishers, and seemingly on how "paper" as a medium is the great savior of print (a recent Eggers theme), would have benefited from Versal's translocal perspective. Here is, perhaps, where I've lost you (if I didn't lose you already because you thought this was going to turn into a bitter rant). Here is also where all my little scribbles become a great daunting pile. But stay with me for a few more paragraphs; this isn't a five-paragraph essay. That Versal was not asked to join the program underscores the question the symposium seems to have started with, about the relationship between publishers and journals -- which is layered something like: between literary publishers and writers, between readers and printed matter, between the computer screen and paper, between global and local. One could say that it's all the same "between", just seen from different perspectives. And that between is the (growing) black hole that translocal writers fall into, or the crack we fall between, pick your metaphor/onomatopoeia.

What happens to the translocal writer, exactly? For many professions, longer-term work abroad is considered a CV must-have at any level, but writers who live more permanently abroad are better off, in many cases, going back home. From a logistic standpoint, an emerging translocal writer may face the following challenges:

1. Disengagement from his/her home literary community (e.g. loosening networks, lack of "being in touch" with "what's going on")
2. Limited engagement with his/her "new" literary community
3. Rejection from journals in either community due to the work's foreignness
4. Hesitation from "home" publishers who tend to prefer local (i.e. residential) writers who can give lots of readings, etc. to sell books

This symposium was an exciting event to hit the Netherlands, whether you like McSweeney's or not. If any of you were there, I'd love to hear about it. So here, finally, is my hypothesis: I believe that translocality is instructional, that translocal writing, e.g., can be a way of understanding literary production and craft in general. Journals like Versal are that greatly-needed bridge between national literary cultures, the spanning scaffolds that will enable literary publishers to notice the ever-increasing number of writers who are taking part (like so many others) in this global world. Using "the hell out of the medium" as McSweeney's asserts oversimplifies the answer to the great digital question of our literary age (i.e. how is the publishing community going to survive it). It's not just about making paper carry its weight. Part of the answer also lies in the traverse between the local and the global, and finding the writers who are working there.


  1. Hey Megan,

    Your comments about the problems a translocal writer might face could very well apply to the problems faced by a bilingual writer like myself.

    I am Uruguayan, live for the most part in Argentina, and write in both the Spanish and English languages. When submitting my English work to publishers, I have often felt that at least some of the rejections had something to do with the fact that I was not 'exotic' enough. Indeed, one kindly editor who advised me had warned me that I might face such a problem, because my poems "didn't have a South American dimension - they could have been written by someone who had lived all their lives in Britain".

    So other readers' expectations as to 'foreignness' or that exotic quality many people still associate with South America (among other places) do weigh upon us in ways we don't always realize or comprehend. I can't write about any 'Native Uruguayan' experience --- my ancestors, though some of them have lived in this continent since the eighteenth century, came from France, Spain and Italy. You can't tell where I come from by looking at my face. I've lived all my life in relatively large towns, within an urban environment and culture. Regardless of the language I choose to express them in, my life experiences and the background of my poetry are of course very much Uruguayan --- but perhaps not colorful enough for those who expect weird animals, ancient legends and rituals, spell-weaving grandmothers, and all the trappings of the so-called 'magical realism'.

    It's a pity that, because a writer's work doesn't agree with the publisher's ideas as to how a person from a certain country should write, that work should be disregarded.

    I'd love to have other writers' insights on these issues, which must surely affect many people who straddle more than one culture/language.

  2. I think, Laura, that your concerns extend past a topical notion - what you write, how exotic, how authentic - to formal and structural features of narrative. Different what? countries? cultures? seem to have varying notions of something like, say, the form of the short story. My experience, for example, is that British writers tend to wrap up stories differently than, say, US writers. And so conventions partially defined by location may jar against the unspoken and unacknowledged expectations of a particular reader. It's easy to be ridiculously derisive/critical of a writer's refusal to fit the stereotype of their own background, but much more difficult (hazy, liminal) to attack the foreignness of their narrative paradigms.

  3. Good blog. This is a subject I have thought hard about and come to many of the same questions as Megan Garr. My personal conclusion: Stop worrying about it Chris, focus on making the work as good, bad or great as your talent allows and meanwhile try to build bridges as well as you can by research on the net and contact through the net. The rest, I hope, will take care or not take care of itself.
    Some very interesting points made here.